On How I Edit Photos (with my iPhone)

A lot of people are really surprised that I take the majority of my photos using my iPhone (previously 5, recently 5s). I do this partially because I don’t own a DSLR and partially because it’s just so easy and convenient to shoot with my phone because it’s always readily available. I’ve had a handful of people ask about my editing process so I am going to share it today (After a bunch of babble about how I got to this point).

I’m fortunate enough to be friends with some really great photographers, and a little less than two years ago my friend Phil gave me a lesson on how to properly edit photos (quality wise). He and Sarah had been trying for years to explain to me that I had to edit QUANTITY wise and I had finally caught on to that so now it was time to work on QUALITY. As for quantity, it took them years to drill it into my head that you don’t have to post seventeen pictures of the same shot! Just pick one! Sometimes I’ll save two if I really can’t help it, but most of the time one is enough.

Anyway, I had dinner with Phil when I was in California visiting and he introduced me to the photo editing app Snapseed, he gave me a REALLY brief overview on how to use it but told me he thought it would be more useful if I figured it out myself. I played with Snapseed for my entire plane ride home and was hooked. It was like magic, suddenly my photos weren’t dull and I could bring out the bright beautiful colors I was seeing with my eyes. I even learned how to white balance properly.  I couldn’t believe I was able to do all of this with my phone! I looked back at my old instagram photos and marveled at what total crap they were (and I never realized it, seriously). Thank god for Phil for showing me the light!

I spent a few months editing in Snapseed and then I saw my friend Katie suddenly using this tag #VSCOcam all the time. I was curious so I texted her about it and found out it’s a photo editing app. I immediately downloaded it and got really into it. VSCOcam is a really easy to use photo editing app that comes with a few free photo filters and TONS of other packages you can buy, I own them all but quickly found my favorites (Almost always F1). VSCOcam is also cool because you can choose how intense you want the filter to be applied. Recently instagram added a lot of the same tools and filter types of features that VSCOcam offers, but I still prefer to use VSCO because I’ve heard editing within Instagram can lower image quality. Sarah told me a handful of other tips and then I took Tyson Wheatly‘s Skillshare class (I talk about that in this post) and now I have a pretty solid photo editing routine, that I will explain here (And there’s an embedded video you can watch to see the process! Technology!)

I decided to edit this photo of my nephew Brayden for you all, because it shows how dramatically you can improve photos using just phone tools. This is the original photo and the photo after the edit.


Photo before editing

Processed with VSCOcam with e3 preset

Photo after edit

Instructions and video on how I edited this photo after the cut!

So the steps I used for this (as seen in the video below!) are the same steps I go through for every photo for the most part.

  1. Import the photo to VSCOcam if it isn’t there already (sidenote: I generally shoot using VSCOcam because I really like the Level tool (Sarah also taught me that).
  2. Open the photo and increase Sharpness. I religiously do this to +3, as instructed by Sarah. I was sharpening way more for a while and learned the hard way that it makes your photos look wonky when you oversharpen (See photo here, it’s one of my favorites but it’s weird and grainy because I over-sharpened).
  3. Look at your photo, are the colors washed out? If so play with the saturation, this photo didn’t need any additional saturation but if your colors seem washed out (or maybe too bright) bring your saturation up or down.
  4. I then look at the photo to determine if it is too dark or maybe too bright and overexposed and adjust the exposure accordingly.
  5. My indoor photos are always too yellow, without fail. This is mostly because of the commonly used bulbs but it makes me insane. It may be a personal preference but I don’t like super yellow-y photos so I am constantly “Blue-ing things up” as I like to say. You can adjust the white balance (yellow/blue) by using the Temperature tool and bring it down to make an image more blue, and up to make it more yellow. The key when doing this is to look at something in the image that should be white and then adjust to make it more white than yellow or blue.
  6. I generally don’t adjust contrast too much but a trick I like to use if my image is too dark but I don’t want to over expose it is to increase the saturation slightly and bring DOWN the contrast. This can make it look brighter without over-saturating.
  7. You can use the level within VSCOcam to make your image look more straight or keystoned (straight on all planes) if the lines are just slightly off, but if they’re worse (As mine often are, because even when I use the level I am constantly standing a little crooked and throwing things off), there’s a super awesome app you can use called SKRWT (I have no idea how you pronounce that) that I use to adjust the image until it is straight (you can see this done in the video below). Sidenote: This is pretty hard to do perfectly sometimes, I even just noticed the image above is still slightly crooked, because of this use a level app and pay close attention to the lines in your photos WHILE shooting, it is way easier than tweaking the photos after the fact!
  8. Are there any glaring flaws in your photo? One small rock or other item ruining an otherwise clean image? I always end up seeing these things after the fact. But we are in luck! There is an app for this and it is MAGIC. It’s called TouchRetouch and I didn’t need to use it for this photo but have included a second video tutorial showing how awesome it is. You’ll notice in the video that the second to last edit I make is a little flubbed and weird looking, and how I fixed it. The app is pretty easy but there are times when you have to mess around with it a little more for the desired effect. There’s also a stamp feature in the app you can use but to be honest I’m still not very good at it so I haven’t included that. You can see another awesome user’s youtube tutorial on this here. This app is $0.99 and it is TOTALLY worth it.
  9. The last thing I do when I am editing photos is a tip I learned in Tyson Wheatly’s Skillshare class and it’s using the Adobe Photoshop Express App to reduce noise in the photo. I don’t really have a magical number or percentage I use for this like other edits, I just kind of do what feels or likes right (For now). Reducing noise in the image makes (most) iPhone or other mobile images look as though they were taken with a DSLR and can really improve the quality of your image. This app is free but I paid $4.99 to be able to use the additional features like reduce noise.
  10. That’s it! You’re done! Post your photo wherever you want, or don’t. Whatever! Oh one more thing, VSCOcam groups photos edited in it in a separate folder, make sure if you edit a photo in another app after VSCO that you delete the original unedited version, I’ve accidentally updated the unfinished photo soooo many times because my instagram automatically opens my VSCOcam folder.

Complete video edit “instruction” walkthrough video here:

(Some folks are having problems seeing the embedded video: click here to watch on Flickr)

Bonus TouchRetouch example video here (again, click here to watch on Flickr):


That’s all for now folks. I do have a New Year’s post about my plans and goals but I am still working on it (womp!) so it will come a little later this week :).


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About tamarahala

Tamara is currently living in Pennsylvania working as a Scheduling Coordinator/Payroll Supervisor with Live Nation Entertainment. Looking for fun short-term opportunities during the off season from November to March.

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